On Friday, Ugandans witnessed another episode of police brutality. It wasn’t just the brutality we are used to seeing. In this video ran by NTVUganda a police officer was, publicly before the cameras, groping an opposition politician Ingrid Turinawe.
Ingrid has been at the forefront of various pressure groups in Uganda for the last 5 years. She was one of the leaders of the Activists for Change (A4C), a pressure group that led the famous Walk to Work protests that took place in many parts of Uganda for the greater part of 2011 as the Arab spring was going on.
The group has been banned because in our country where we still use very colonial laws to the advantage of a dictatorial regime, the attorney general has powers to declare a group illegal even without evidence of the need to ban them. This law threatens even a blogger or writers who mention A4C as government could claim that they are promoting an illegal group with intention to ‘incite violence’. Already two journalists have been summoned by the police over an interview had with the head of the group. Human rights groups have warned on the dangers of the government-increased crackdown on freedom of speech, expression and assembly in Uganda.
Once the group A4C was banned, some of its leaders rebranded it into For God and my Country (4GC), taking after the country motto. It was after the launch of the new group that Uganda police brutality came back to our living rooms.
This time a male police offer publically groping Ingrid as another pulls her leg out of the car. The police officer didn’t grope her once, he did it repeatedly and in the video we hear Ingrid asking why the police officer was doing that. One other police officer warns his colleague but does nothing to stop this.
Storyful covered the initial reactions of Ugandans on twitter. On Saturday evening, in a move to do damage control Uganda police sent a tweet;
They didn’t even have the humility to describe the incident they were talking about. They wouldn’t even come close to mentioning this public sexual assault. Then later on the TVs came a junior police spokesperson to claim that the officer who groped Ingrid was a woman; as if a woman groping a woman is a lesser evil!
The women’s movement in Uganda together with human rights activists wouldn’t let this pass. To be honest they have been quiet in the past regarding rights of women in the political sphere. Today over 15 women activist wearing only their bras staged a protest outside the Central Police station to call for the attention of the Inspector General of Police who has so far been quiet on the matter.
As expected they were arrested but their message was loud and clear! “We respect our bodies and we expect to be respected.”
In a country where investigations into sexual violence usually don’t easily go through, when you have a person in uniform sexually assaulting a woman the public outcry can only be louder across political divides . Respect is earned and if the police are to get respect of Ugandans they better bring such officers to face the justice system! Resorting to internal disciplinary methods when it comes such sexual crimes will only condone such acts and Ugandan public will not be satisfied with that.
As one human rights activist Nicholas Opiyo posted on his facebook said:
The loud silence of senior police authority (forget the casual speaking ad insensitive spokespersons) in the face of the brutal affront at the dignity of women lends credence to the suspicion of their tacit approval or condonation of such acts. The same happened to Anne Mugisha at Jinja Road Police Station on April 11, 2011, Nabilah Naggayi Ssempala and many other women. Enough to this brutality. Kale Kayeihura is a shame to this country
Many Ugandans through Facebook and Twitter wondered , if the police can do that to a prominent politician publicly, who knows what takes place when women are taken into custody? Ingrid is a woman first and a politician later; when law enforcers choose to use sexually humiliating tactics to curtail women’s freedom to demonstrate and question their government, all of us are not safe. When a country has armed forces with a history of sexual violence, this act of public groping of a woman politician can only worry us and hope we are not going backwards in the fight against sexual and gender based violence.
In the past we have seen shootings of civilians in protests and no officer is brought to book. In cases when the police are investigating themselves we can only wait to see what they come up with.
In 2008, the Uganda police arrested Kampala Woman Parliamentarian Nabilah Sempala in a manner that was meant to humiliate her and no one was held accountable. The country watched images of police officers lifting up skirts of a woman Member of Parliament. There was a little noise and we didn’t see much accountability.
In 2010 I had interview with Ingrid Turinawe who was at time leading a group of women calling for peaceful elections and accountable electoral commission. Ingrid and some women who were part of the group had reported the indecent way the police arrested them and again no much followup was seen.
If women have to worry about being undressed, groped and many worse things in their attempt to participate in politics then Uganda cannot claim to protect the rights of women.